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Fresh Osama claims

Islamabad, July 5 (Reuters): Al Qaida chief Osama bin Laden and his close allies might be hiding in southern Afghanistan, which has seen a sharp rise in militant violence in recent weeks, a Pakistani minister said in remarks published today.

The whereabouts of bin Laden and top militants such as his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri, and Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar, are not known but they are suspected of hiding along the rugged Afghan-Pakistani border.

Although both close US allies, tension has risen between Afghanistan and Pakistan over Afghan and US military accusations that militants launch attacks into Afghanistan from the safety of Pakistan.

Afghan and US officials there also say bin Laden is not in Afghanistan, suggesting he must be in Pakistan. Pakistani officials insist he is not in their country.

Pakistani interior minister Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao again ruled out the possibility that bin Laden was in Pakistan and said the fugitive leader and his allies might be hiding in Afghanistan’s restive south.

“The possibility of Mullah Omar, Osama bin Laden and his close aide, Ayman al-Zawahri, hiding in that area cannot be ruled out,” Sherpao said.

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